Level of Self-Sacrifice
Without hope of reward or acceptance, people at this level will do good that is not required by any objective standard, even good acts that defy logic. They will adopt a child from a third-world country. They will give away large portions of money to the poor. They will devote personal time to charitable causes. Occasionally, they will give their own lives to save someone else.
(An Adult’s Level)
“So it is Written”
At this level, people’s choices between right and wrong are motivated by an objective standard. A concept such as logic, democracy, justice, human rights, or theology forms the basis of the standard, which often then appears in a written form, such as the Constitution, the Bible, or the Declaration of Human Rights. If their objective standard approves of an act, these people will commit that act even if it is condemned by authorities and their own peer group. These people believe the judgments they make are fair since the standard can be used consistently for people inside or outside of their group. When people at this level do wrong, it is because they have misinterpreted the ideas in the standard (perhaps purposefully) about what is fair, or because they are using a faulty standard.
(An Adolescent’s Level)
“Everybody’s doing it.”
At this level, people’s choices between right and wrong are motivated by a desire to fit in with a group—family, friends, race, or nation. Whether it’s speeding, downloading stolen music, or participating in a Holocaust, people at this level will join in wrongdoing whenever their group approves—even if authorities promise punishments or nature promises consequences. For example, people on this level will accept personal punishment to avoid “snitching” or engage in risky behavior that their group considers brave or sexy. These behaviors are not just for show: no one need know about their decisions; they have accepted the group’s concepts of right and wrong as their own. When people at this level do good, they will do it even if there is no possibility of reward, because “That’s what good people do.”
Contrariness on this level will sometimes lead people to single themselves out of the crowd, but their motivation is still the group consensus.
Reward and Punishment Level
(A Child’s Level)
“It’s only wrong if you get caught.”
When people function at the lowest level of ethics, their choices between right and wrong are motivated by promised punishments and rewards. When they refrain from doing wrong, it’s only because they are afraid of getting caught (being arrested by authorities or ending up in Hell). When these people do right, it’s only to get the reward offered by authorities (a tax-break or getting into Heaven).
When they are caught, they may be angry with authorities, since in their minds it is only the authority’s decisions which created the problem. They are also strongly motivated by natural consequences, but often only if they are immediate. If the fall looks fatal, they will not take risks, but they will smoke or overeat without letting health problems concern them.